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Dogs: A dangerous legacy

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- CANNES 2016: With this highly accomplished blend of film noir and modern western, Bogdan Mirica makes the transition to the feature-length format with flying colours

Review
Gheorghe Visu and Dragos Bucur in Dogs

Over the last 15 years or so, we've become used to Romanian cinema regularly unveiling new auteurs who, more often than not, work in the realms of social realism. With Bogdan Mirica and his feature debut, Dogs [+see also:
trailer
film focus
interview: Bogdan Mirica
film profile
]
, revealed in the Un Certain Regard selection of the 69th Cannes Film Festival, a new, talented face has just signed up to this trend, following in the footsteps of his elders (Mungiu, Puiu, Jude and Netzer, to name just a few). But more than anything else, it's the fact that he has opened up to a different style that really makes its mark here. Toying skilfully with the codes of film noir (set against a backdrop of an enigmatic reinterpretation of classic western figures), slowing the pace and capitalising on the power of suggestion provided by the natural settings, the young filmmaker has crafted a charming atmosphere into which he has inserted a rather mainstream plot, without ever abandoning stylish, high-quality cinematic standards when it comes to the mise-en-scène and a sleek visual sheen. This very promising approach, which is “arty” without taking it to extremes, and mainstream without the inherent luridness, probably explains why all of the Cannes selections had to battle it out to coax the movie into their own showcase.

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"You're not made for this place." This is what Roman (Dragos Bucur) is told in no uncertain terms when he arrives from the capital city after having inherited a 550-hectare property from his late grandfather. We're in the middle of nowhere, the open countryside stretching as far as the eye can see, and the young man soon starts asking himself some questions. Where did his grandfather get the money to buy the plot in just nine months at the time, back in 1983? Why did the communists then leave him be? And above all, why did he settle down there, a place where there's no forest, no water and where nothing can grow? Another oddity is the fact that this extremely remote house is exposed to the full force of the wind, but is surrounded by a fence bristling with barbed wire. Once night falls, the plot thickens with the barking of the guard dog ("She only bites when she's angry") and a curious procession of cars nearby, before his friend in charge of putting the property up for sale simply vanishes ("It's as if the ground has swallowed him up"). All of this serves to crank up Roman's concern a notch, and yet he has no intention of giving in to intimidation... And meanwhile, the elderly head of the microscopic local police force (Gheorghe Visu) calmly conducts an investigation after a foot is discovered in a pond...

A laconic young hero, a sheriff on his last legs, a villain (Vlad Ivanov) who is particularly menacing under that wily exterior, rifles and hammers at everyone's fingertips, minimalistic conversations imbued with the unspoken, the deepest darkness and peacefulness of the countryside shattered by sudden flashes of light, and vast panoramas a stone's throw from the border and from the Danube: Mirica (who wrote the screenplay for this film being sold abroad by Bac Films) unspools his story patiently, slowing the pace, avoiding explanations and postponing the score-settling – and all of this enables the stirring under the surface of this vast space governed by its own rules, where "there are animals both large and small", to seep through more effectively. Add a dash of dark humour, a touch of the fabular teetering on the fine line between good and evil, and the extremely well-crafted cinematography of Andrei Butica, and you have a feature debut with a vaguely "Tarantino-esque" whiff (albeit less over the top and more Romanian), which immediately demonstrates all of the cinematic potential of its director, even if his personality still remains somewhat hidden behind this accomplished demonstration of his dazzling skills as a filmmaker. An enigma that will make the next episode in his career all the more fascinating.

(Translated from French)

photogallery

international title: Dogs
original title: Caini
country: Romania, France, Bulgaria, Qatar
sales agent: Bac Films
year: 2016
directed by: Bogdan Mirica
screenplay: Bogdan Mirica
cast: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Gheorghe Visu, Costel Cascaval

main awards/selection

Cannes Film Festival 2016
Un Certain Regard
La Rochelle International Film Festival 2016 
Sarajevo Film Festival 2016 
Warsaw Film Festival 2016 
CinEast film festival 2016 
Seville European Film Festival 2016 
Stockholm International Film Festival 2016 
Cottbus Film Festival 2016 
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